Michigan’s [Food] Adventure: Part 1

You all are about to get a load of a food and travel story for a place you may have never considered to visit. I highly suggest it.

As I have mentioned in my previous articles, I recently went to Michigan to visit my best friend, primarily for her 21st birthday. I met her in Belgium and I am forever grateful for this. This trip was my longest trip there but her family is honestly my second family. It was such an awesome trip! With tubing trips, bar crawls and a trip to one of my favorite places. I even fished for the first time and wore camo. You all get to hear all about it. Excuse the fact these articles are a little long. They are coming all in a clump and named for the Michigan theme park: Michigan’s Adventure, where Courtney has worked before

There is so much for me to say about the mitten!

IMG_3169

Rockwell Republic | This was the restaurant we tried for my best friend, Courtney’s birthday. It’s located near Heritage Hill in Grand Rapids. They have two different spaces of the restaurant, which I found interesting and cool. Not only did they serve up awesome martinis. The IDK was our martini of choice: sky passion fruit vodka, mango liqueur, fresh lemon juice, sparkling passion fruit, orange peel. If that doesn’t sound like a solid and deliciously fruity martini, I don’t know what does. Definitely a winner for my first martini.

But their grilled cheese was one of the best I’ve had, especially for a restaurant. The bread was crusty with the right amount of crunch for the grilled cheese. The cheeses were cheddar and emmentaler, which both melt well. The emmentaler cheese was featured on my cheese board from a few months ago. It is a lot like Swiss so it adds a bit of underlying smokiness to the grilled cheese. This smoky aspect paired perfectly with the smoked tomato dipping sauce that was served on the side. The flavor of this sauce was smoky, a tad spicy and basically wonderful.

IMG_3078

This is Courtney and I on her birthday!

IMG_3064

Nonna’s Cafe | This is a cafe with such a nice little Michigan charm located in Ada, which is just a bit outside of Grand Rapids. It has a soothing vibe when you walk in mostly because of the gray and white walls. Considering my recent love affair with sage, it was hard to give up trying this one once I saw it on the menu. The flavor of the sage was, of course, what pleased me the most about this dish. It could never be as good as Cafe Torino in my eyes but the ravioli seemed fresh and full of flavor.

IMG_3103

As for the rest of the menu, Nonna’s serves hearty salads and pastas, not to mention their coffee and tea, which seems to be their main focus. Unfortunately, they don’t have a website so it is harder for me to find out some of the insights I don’t get while I’m in the place. But they seem to change their menu often and seasonally, since it is so limited. They serve breakfast and lunch. And their pastries also look amazing. They even introduced me to having honey and cinnamon on my coffee – if you haven’t tried it, you must.


My kind-of-Michigan-Monday | Odd Side Ales serves up imaginative craft beer flavors in the heart of Grand Haven. This brewery is located across from The Kirby House, one of my features from last year, which I got to try again. Just as good, FYI. The Pronto Pup also boosts the best corn dogs there ever were. The breading isn’t too much and they are fried there on the spot. And it’s literally just a shack – cheapest rent ever – aka genius. Side note: the photo featured above is also from Grand Haven off of their beautiful pier.

IMG_3159

Michigan may be a place known for mostly just Detroit, giving the state a somewhat bad name. It may also be crawling with national chains. But when you find the local places, you have found some great food.

IMG_3118

The Old Fire Station

Burgers, burgers, burgers. For a year now, I have been hearing about this old fire station turned into a restaurant that serves up a mean burger. My big sister in my sorority lives right next to this place and my little is just as obsessed.

One Sunday brunch, my little, one of my closest friends in Alpha Gam and I went to Station 2. On another note, this past weekend, my chapter welcomed 40 awesome new members. It was great to be involved with the process even as an alum.

I was finally trying this place I had been hearing about for months and months. Even at brunch, I ended up getting a burger. What can I say. There were too many awesome looking options so I really couldn’t not try one. It would be doing myself a disservice.

The BBQ Barista burger. Coffee rubbed and drenched in BBQ sauce. With smoked gouda too. Um, yum. At least this burger was rubbed with coffee, that’s pretty brunchy right?

This whole coffee rub thing made me a little skeptical. My little told me that coffee and burgers are kind of a thing. Something about the coffee really brings out the flavor of the burger and such and such. I can see why.

For most of my bites, I could not even tell the burger was coffee rubbed in the least. There was just a slight undertone. Other bites had so much coffee flavor. With the smokiness of the gouda, roasted coffee grounds and the char from the grill on the burger, all of the flavors just worked. Absolutely delicious. I was kind of amazed by this whole coffee thing. It has inspired a bit of experimentation in me.

My friends both got the sausage gravy. It was some of the best restaurant sausage gravy I’ve had. And I take my sausage gravy seriously.

For brunch or just a burger, give this old fire station a try.

Easy and Cheesy

Happy September! Anyone else confused how it got here so quickly?

There have been many changes in my life recently. I finally took a vacation to Michigan to visit my best friend (more foodie fun to come from that) and I started a new job. I won’t go into much detail in this post but stay tuned for more!


Looking for an easy crowd pleaser?

Look no further.

The Pizza Braid is one of the easiest and quite delicious recipes out there. Considering it’s basically pizza, it is hard to find someone who doesn’t want to try this.

I got this recipe off of Tablespoon, a website with a ton of great recipes, a few months ago. It looked so easy, it was hard not to try it out myself.

Ingredients:

1 roll of pizza dough – I used Pillsbury’s dough sheet so it was a little flakier

1/2 cup of pizza sauce or marinara

2 cups of mozzarella or whatever cheese you please – I used pesto gouda from Trader Joe’s

2/3 cup of pepperonis plus more for topping

IMG_2674

Directions:

Heat your oven to 425 degrees. Lay the dough flat on a greased baking sheet. Use a knife or kitchen scissors to cut 8 equal strips along the longer edges. Make sure to leave a 3 or 4 inch space down the middle for your filling. Spoon pizza sauce onto the dough. Sprinkle some cheese, add some pepperonis. Top with some more cheese and pepperonis. Once your finished, start on one end and fold the dough over the filling so it overlaps and looks braided. Top with some cheese and pepperonis. Bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melty.

IMG_2676

Because I used the dough sheet and not straight pizza dough, my braid looks a little different than what yours would look like if you made this yourself. If you opt to use the dough sheet – it is a little cheaper, be aware it cooks faster than the pizza dough. Hence my very golden brown example.

IMG_2682

Just the same, this cheesy masterpiece is very reminiscent of a stromboli. It’s full of cheese and whatever delicious toppings you chose. Whether you use the pizza dough or dough sheet, flaky or not, you have a little pocket of goodness in your hands.

IMG_2682

Anywho, another awesome thing is that you can get creative with this. It is a blank canvas. You could try buffalo chicken, cheeseburger or pesto chicken. Maybe even make it a little sweet.

The possibilities are endless.

The Pearl-Wearing Pig

This Richmond spot is one that has been on my list for awhile, along with a million others. The Pig and Pearl serves up pork BBQ and other southern favorites, hence the name. My older brother, who moved here in December, is the fan of the Rocket Dog, something he enjoys for lunch on the regular.

To give some background, I have been living in Oregon Hill since I got to VCU, except for a two month stint in a freakishly expensive apartment. Anywho, I have been in this particular house in Oregon Hill for two years, going on my third. All the previous roommates moved out because they graduated and such. I may have graduated but I am still stinking around.

One of my new roommates is named Charlie, or Charles, as I like to call her. She is the one I am closet to in the house. We went on spring break together with two of our other sisters. She was a freshman who barely knew any of us, and just decided to tag along. But this trip would not in any way have been the same if she hadn’t come. In a matter of months, she’s become one of my best friends. She’s also always down to experiment with food with me and be my first guinea pig.

I had the pleasure of enjoying this meal with her and her dad. I now understand Charles a little more after meeting her dad. Her goof ball nature and the way she talks, everything makes more sense. It was great company!

But back to the food, we shared Fried Okra for the table. I had never had them before. I must admit they were a little heavy on the breading but they were still great. The sauce they were served with was awesome! It’s a bacon remoulade, basically an aioli. The flavor of it with the bacon and spices was amazing!

IMG_2522

I wasn’t necessarily in the mood for a burger but the toppings on the Southern Gentleman were just too appetizing to pass up! Pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, bacon, bourbon and blackstrap molasses BBQ sauce. I mean, come on, how could I have not ordered that?

IMG_2524

The burger was delicious. The fried green tomatoes were probably the thickest I had ever tried. Unfortunately, the burger was a little light on the pimento cheese, but we all know how I feel about that. It was so messy I could not even put it down. And it was delicious! Not my favorite burger in Richmond but this dish got me excited to try the rest of their menu.

IMG_2527

The Pig and Pearl also boosts an astounding beer and liquor menu. The liquors all have an explanation, namely the whiskey and bourbon. Being the southern place they are, I can see why.

For drinks or food, The Pig and Pearl is a solid choice in Richmond for a twist on Southern food.

Relay Recipes

As some of you may or may not know, I used to work for Relay Foods last fall. Relay is an online grocery store and farmers market. As I liked to call it, something between Amazon and Whole Foods. There’s something about it for everyone. Whether you wanna use it for the organic options, the online shopping or for the pure convenience of not going to the grocery store.

Something I really love about Relay is that they have recipes and meal planning options for busy families or people like me. Recently, they honored me with a few bucks to make some recipes for my blog.

I decided on Mexican Lasagna and Eggplant Parmesan. Both vegetarian and delish.

Eggplant Parmesan

IMG_4735

For something so popular, this was my first time even making Eggplant Parmesan. It was exactly as I had expected. The breading can get tough if you don’t keep the process on the clean side. But it is definitely a messy process. The spice blend that this uses really makes the dish. It has a little kick but adds so much flavor. It feels really healthy eating this dish because of the eggplant and then you realize all the stuff you just put in it and how it may not actually be that healthy. Also, I am quite a fan of all the cheese that it uses. Provolone, parmesan, and Italian blend – keep it coming.

IMG_4737

(Excuse my slightly over-broiled variation)

Mexican Lasagna

IMG_4727

This recipe was one of the easiest ones I have made in awhile. And it was amazing! You also feel healthy eating it because of all the beans in it. You get a little bit of all the things you need in one place. The enchilada sauce has a ton of flavor and adds so much to the dish. Full of flavor and a bit on the spicy side, the crema uses the chiles and cilantro. It is the best addition to this dish. The dish has a lot of texture and every bite has a little bit of a different flavor. For a busy family, this would be an easy weeknight dinner to whip up. It’s also pretty fun to make.

IMG_4732

I really love Relay and how easy they make buying groceries. They also make sure that the customers are always happy with the products they are getting. They even have an awesome refill opinion for people who repeatedly buy something weekly or monthly. My only only issue with them is that for a college kid or graduate, Relay can be a little bit on the pricier side. I got the fixings for these meals and a little something extra for $50.

This particular post may sound like a sales pitch, but in actuality, it’s about the recipes. As I was making these dishes, I realized they were both casseroles and both vegetarian. I did not mean to have such little variation between the dishes I made for them. Just the same, choose Mexican or Italian and you’ve got an easy dinner in the making.

Torino, Amore Mio

Happy August!! I can’t believe it got here so quickly!


For my 50th post, I have happy news!

I finally get to unveil to you my number 1 restaurant, as least for flavors sake.

Located in tiny Warrenton in the middle of horse country Virginia, Cafe Torino serves some of the most authentic Italian experience in, I dare say, Virginia.

The owner and head chef is a Italian-born man with the robust Italian personality. He comes to greet you and even catch a few jokes. As for his food, being born and raised in Italy, I think this guy knows Italian.

My family and I have a long relationship. We lived in Warrenton for 7 years while my mom worked at the AIA headquarters in DC. My godparents live here and this is where she grew up. The unfortunate thing is we only came to try this restaurant only 3 months before we were supposed to move.

Ever since, any time we are there, we have to go! It is just the best treat. I’ve even gone by myself. This time, I drove 3 hours for a 2 hour meal with part of my family. Every time, it’s worth it. I have never met something more consistent in flavor or better in Italian. My go to is the Pennette with Prosciutto and Sage, but I’ve also only gone at lunch.

We were there dinner this go around. My dish of choice: Tortellini with Prosciutto and Sage. I was between this and another but the waitress suggested this, so I had to do it. There was no regret.

IMG_2371 (1)

The tortellini was the most fresh tortellini I have ever tasted. You could just tell it was recently made. The creaminess of the sauce was the perfect consistency, thin and full of gusto. The sage flavor is so wonderfully underlying. As for the prosciutto, for dinner, its thick cut. With every bite, saltier than the last. The pairing is marvelous. This dish has inspired me to use more sage in my cooking – recipes to come.

IMG_2378

I must admit I haven’t strayed too much from ordering this dish at Cafe Torino. But I have had the joy of trying a few dishes and every single one is just such a great Italian representation. Especially, the focaccia, soft and fresh. Even the environment, it is very relaxed. Not trying to be a high class place, but serving amazing amazing Italian food.    Not a bad Idea.

IMG_2373

After this trip, I happily had the opportunity to go again within the week. It was the best but very rare for me. This time, my mom and I shared the Tortellini with Ham and Peas. I have to say, it wasn’t nearly as delicious but still amazing!

IMG_2464

So Warrenton Friends, if you haven’t tried this, leave your house right now to try it. Everyone else, find a way. It is the best needle in a haystack.

Seizing Sandwiches: Part 1

Let’s be honest. We have been eating sandwiches since we first started making our way to school in preschool. As adults, our sandwiches stem far beyond the normal peanut butter and jelly or the ham and cheese.

I wanted to mix it up and try a few sandwiches around Richmond. And RVA knows sandwiches.

Lamplighter Coffee is known around for a lot of things. Their coffee, of course, their pasteries, sandwiches and primarily, the RVA hipster that frequents its locations. The Big Toni at Lamplighter was wonderful. There was the right amount of kick with the sausage and the peppers. And the bread was soft. The flavor of the sandwich was full of gusto.

IMG_8409

Strawberry Street Cafe, on the other hand, isn’t as much as “cafe” as you would think. It is a Richmond tradition and has been for years. They are namely known for their bathtub salad bar that is nestled in the middle of the establishment. But one day, I tried their French Dip and it was ah-freaking-mazing. The meat with deliciously seasoned and tender. The au joux was flavorful. The bread. The bread was soft, warm and accented the sandwich oh so well. It wasn’t too bready either.

IMG_8356

Olio is a cafe market located in the Fan District. Great for the office day take out lunch. It boosts a menu of different sandwiches and salads with names like The Londoner and the Arc de Triomphe. My sandwich of choice was the latter. The baguette was crusty yet still soft. The garlic aioli was just garlicly enough and stinking delicious. As Brie normally goes, it can sometimes tend to overpower all the rest of the flavors. With this, the flavors melded together perfectly. The smokiness of the bacon, creamy and pungent flavor of the Brie. Not to mention, the roasted nature of the turkey. The sandwich overall was full of flavor.

IMG_1989

These are just three sandwiches of probably thousands around the Richmond area. Get ready for sandwiches part too – coming soon. There may even be a French Dip face-off.